Gumbaynggirr language teacher Brother Steve Morelli is joint winner of Patji-Dawes Award

LANGUAGE WARRIOR: Brother Steve Morelli
LANGUAGE WARRIOR: Brother Steve Morelli

Indigenous language teachers win Patji-Dawes Award

Two teachers of Australian Indigenous languages are the joint winners of the Patji-Dawes Award - Australia's premier award for achievement in teaching languages other than English.

And one of them is our very own Brother Stephen Morelli, much-loved teacher and linguist at the Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Cultural Centre, who has worked closely with Aboriginal communities on the mid-north coast of NSW for over 30 years to revive and teach the Gumbaynggirr language.

He is joined by Sophia Mung, a Gija woman from Purnululu (East Kimberley, WA), who has been recognised for decades of tireless work to ensure the Gija language is passed down to future generations.

Brother Steve, as he is known to many, has compiled a dictionary and grammar of Gumbaynggirr, co-developed courses up to Certificate III level, and co-edited the Gumbaynggirr Yuludarla Jandaygam Gumbaynggirr Dreaming Story Collection.

He said he feels greatly honoured by the award, especially considering where the nomination came from.

"For me, this award says something about the great revival of the Gumbaynggirr people, about the huge sense of pride felt by the local Aboriginal people in ownership of their heritage," Brother Steve said.

This award in some way honours the achievements of the people too - it's not just an honour for me

Brother Steve Morelli

He was nominated by Gary Williams, Gumbaynggirr community elder, CEO of the Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Cooperative and co-editor of the dreaming story collection.

Gary said that Brother Steve had worked with the community to help its members do justice to the aspirations of those people who first gathered in Kempsey in the 1980s to reclaim the language.

"He has really understood from the start that our language and culture are completely intertwined," Gary said.

"Developing the language to accommodate the needs of contemporary speakers was only possible because Brother Steve has always worked with us as part of a team, together adapting the language in ways that made sense culturally."

Professor Nicholas Evans, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, which bestows the award, said the Centre was thrilled by the spike in nominations of and by Indigenous people in the UN's International Year of Indigenous Languages.

"The winners of the award highlight that teaching and learning our Indigenous languages should be a fundamental part of Australia's education systems," Professor Evans said.

"For many Indigenous Australians and the majority of people around the world, speaking more than one language is a comfortable and normal state. Being fluent in more than one language has been shown to bring huge cognitive advantages, and the more we can do to encourage and celebrate our language teachers, the better."

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